How To Optimise Your Mac For Gaming

How to Optimise Your Mac for Gaming

You may not immediately think "gaming" when you think "Mac", but there are lots of games for the Mac these days, and some of the most popular PC games are also available for OS X. Let's take a look at a few ways to make those games run as smoothly as possible.

Also: The 12 Best Games For Macs

Thanks to Steam, Humble Bundles and developers who are more open to releasing their games on multiple platforms, owning a Mac doesn't mean you're resigned to watching your Windows friends get their game on. Plus, if you're like me and use a Windows PC as your primary gaming machine but travel with a Macbook Pro, you don't necessarily want to leave your video games at home just because you're headed out of town. Here's how to tweak your Mac to make the most of your games.

Free Up some Disk Space and Clean Up System Clutter

How to Optimise Your Mac for Gaming

One of the best ways to keep your Mac in speedy shape is to clean up your app clutter, disable resource-hogging startup apps and uninstall unwanted apps (especially menubar utilities that run in the background all the time). We covered some of these tricks in our guide to speeding up and reviving your Mac, but it's even more important when it comes to games. Some of those games may grab some disk space for scratch while you're playing, and you'll feel it if you're short on it. As a byproduct, the last thing you want, especially if you're playing Steam games, is to cut Steam off from valuable disk space while you're playing. Additionally, you can kill off some of OS X's features that you know you never use, like Dashboard or Notification Center (assuming you never use them). MacTuts+ has a great how to for both if you'd like to turn them off entirely.

Beyond that, you can always use some of our favourite tools to clean up and spruce up your Mac, like Onyx, our favourite system tweaker for the Mac, or iBoostUp, another fast and free Mac tweaking tool. Windows users will be familiar with CCleaner, which also works a treat on OS X.

Let Steam Finish Its Work Before You Play

How to Optimise Your Mac for Gaming

If the bulk of the games you play on the Mac are Steam games, your best bet before you fire up your favourite games — or before you hit the road with your Mac — is to let Steam do everything it needs to do long before you feel like playing anything. Patches, updates, new game installs, do it all before you play, and don't trust Steam or your Mac to manage that stuff in the background while you're trying to game.

In Windows, if you have a powerful enough gaming PC, you can freely let Steam download updates or manage its own downloads while you do other things. In OS X, it just doesn't seem to work quite as well. Personal experience here, but if you're planning a trip and you want to game on your Mac, even if you know you'll have reliable internet access where you're going, let Steam update itself and all of your games before you even leave the house. Then you won't have to worry about any of them when you get where you're going.

Try Windowed Mode versus Full-Screen and See Which Works Better

How to Optimise Your Mac for Gaming

Obviously, adjusting the graphics settings for your game is one of the best ways to make sure it runs a little more smoothly, but another thing you can try is switching between full-screen and windowed mode. Even windowed mode taking up the entire screen can sometimes smooth things out for you, and which one will work better depends heavily on the games you play. I've had some titles strain in windowed mode but really pick up when set to full-screen, and other titles choke in full-screen but suddenly become playable in windowed mode. Your mileage may vary.

Keep Your Other Apps Closed and Uninstall System-Sucking Plugins

How to Optimise Your Mac for Gaming

Even if your Mac is packed with a massive SSD and plenty of RAM, keeping a bunch of apps running in the background while you fire up a full-screen game isn't going to do you any favours. If you game on Windows, you're probably used to the performance tradeoff of keeping other apps open while you game, so you should be ready for it in OS X as well. This is especially true for heavier apps and web browsers, which consume more system resources the longer they've been open. If you can, close Firefox or Chrome on your Mac while you game, or at least close them before you game and start a fresh session if you like to surf the web or research while you play.

In some cases, it's not a big difference, but in others — namely when it comes to web browsing — it can be pretty nightmarish. Flash, Java, and other heavy plugins for web content are especially to blame for sucking down system resources while you're trying to play full-screen games, and fighting those games for valuable processor time even though the game clearly has priority. You could just remove Flash and Java entirely, or you could install ClickToFlash for Safari or Flashblock for Firefox or Chrome to stop it from loading until you actually want it.

Keep an Eye On Performance with Your System Monitor

How to Optimise Your Mac for Gaming

Activity Monitor is built in to OS X and gives you a complete picture of which processes and applications are using the most memory, CPU and disk resources. It's great, and it's a great way to see if there's some application open behind your games that's slowing everything down so you can close it (even if that app is Steam — I've seen that happen before). However, Activity Monitor can be a pain to keep an eye on behind a full-screen game, so consider iStat Menus, which essentially puts those tools in your Mac's menubar.

I know we suggested keeping menubar utilities to a minimum, but the beauty of iStat Menus is that they're really light on system resources, and can tell you more than just RAM, CPU, and disk activity. One click shows you CPU temperature, battery temperature, fan speed, and more. You can get a feel for whether or not there's a hardware issue at play as well as a software one (like a broken or dying fan, for example), even while your favourite game is up and running.

Yes, You Can Always Install Windows

How to Optimise Your Mac for Gaming

Just to get the inevitable out of the way, yes — you can always install Windows on your Mac. Whether you give up on OS X entirely or you use Boot Camp to dual-boot, you can run Windows and your favourite Windows apps and games on your Mac hardware. It's one way to get your game on in a way you're probably familiar, and use all of the tweaks and tools you're familiar with. Plus, if you're running Windows, you have a broader array of games available for you to play, and many of them will actually run better in Windo, you have more options. A Mac actually makes a remarkably solid Windows computer, and while it's not designed specifically for gaming, most models' discrete graphics make them pretty good for the task.

Once you've gone through these suggestions, ideally your games should play a bit more smoothly. As with any system, you'll have to tweak the graphics settings to make sure everything is just right, but just because you're gaming on a Mac doesn't mean you have to settle for the performance you get. You can't control everything, but there are definitely a few things you can do to boost your gaming experience, especially if you're on the go.

Pictures: Dan Taylor


    Optimise for gaming and there's a picture of installing Vista??

      Not a big fan of Apple computers, but even I would not wish Vista upon Apple users D:

    I don't understand anti-Mac talk, as there are plenty of good games available for Mac OS and, even if your favourite game isn't compatible, there's always Boot Camp (which I use a lot).

      The performance is pretty bad on OSX (I think it uses OpenGL instead of DirectX?). Couldn't play CS:S on my 2010 mbp without lagging, but with bootcamp I could run dead space 2 on max

      Probably because of the zero GPU options when building a Mac. And it's a low-mid option at that.

        Haha, my iMac's graphics card is dead and there's no way of getting in there to replace it unless I take it to an Apple Store and they replace it for $200. But it's only an ATI Radeon HD 4850 in the first place, so not even worth it!

          Ha, there's a pic floating around that shows what happens when something on your iMac breaks. The whole thing disappears. :P

          Anyway, unfortunate. And yes they can't quickly replace it, as it's like a laptop.

      If you have a game that runs like crap on a Mac... too bad. Get a new computer.

      I don't mind the OS THAT much, even though it's quite limiting it can do some media type stuff (Photoshop, video editing, etc) well (albeit no better than Windows can accomplish the exact same tasks). The hardware is the real problem. An eighth of the power for around four times the price. You will never be able to justify that until they step up their game and make Mac hardware worth buying over hardware built by independent companies. And lets face it, that's never going to happen. It's Apple, they could sell turds with the Apple logo on it and people would buy it.

      I'll probably need something with the Mac OS on it soon, but I'll probably just make a dual boot computer. Virtual Machines suck.

        That's only half true. Yes, if you want the most performance: price ratio, don't look at Macs. But a Hackintosh is relatively easy to build, without needing to pay for Apple's hideously overpriced performance/storage upgrades. As a longtime Windows user, I think W8 is utterly indefensible. There are many problems I mentioned in an earlier thread and between the time I posted it and now, W8 machine has now entered an automatic repair loop that can't be refreshed or reset. And because I was a good boy and updated it to 8.1, I can't even boot from a recovery file because there are no 8.1 disks and Microsoft in their infinite wisdom hasn't released an 8.1 ISO to the public. /golfclap. If you want to build a PC, stick with your old W7 key (and lose out on further DX revisions), install OSX or Steam OS.

          Yeah I haven't used W8 but I'd probably still take it over OSX. The Mac that I used for around two years was probably a pretty poor example of a Mac, but I really hated it.

        An eighth of the power for around four times the price. That's a bit of an exaggeration. More like 70% of the power for the same price.

      even if your favourite game isn't compatible

      > Favourite game isn't compatible
      > Forced to buy another OS licence just to play
      > Shouldn't find that objectionable

      Seems legit.

        I have Windows XP installs just lying around, so it wasn't really any problem for me!

    To be brutally honest... If I could talk to my past self... I would tell myself to not even attempt gaming on the Mac and save up and buy a decent PC. I had my Mac for about 4 years. I tried to 'game' on it. It wasn't really worth the hassle. Got a PC built by @welbot earlier this year and have never looked back.

    Mac can be used for some games i wouldn't say mac is useless for gaming.

    How to optimise you mac for gaming:
    Step 1: get a PC

    (you knew this was coming)

      Get a Personal Computer, which a Mac clearly is. So yeah, that's a very good start.

        Thank you!

        Never understood why the term "PC" for some reason only refers to Windows based computers......
        Even then, it's such an antiquated term...... My phone is a personal computer, so is my watch......

          It's probably due to the Mac vs Pc ads they had.

          Yeah, it just annoys me, I even asked one of my teachers when I was studying Cert IV or whatever "If a Mac isn't a Personal Computer a 'PC' as you say, then what is it?" they stopped excluding the term PC to a Windows based computer after that heh. Then again I never really thought he was qualified to teach IT, since most of the class knew more than he did.

          It probably makes me sound like some Apple fan boy, being anal over something like that but you get that heh.

            I always called windows PC because windows used to be referred to as Windows PC, and Mac as a Mac because every Mac user I know gets all piss and vinegar if you call it a PC..

            (Also I have to use a Mac at work, graphic and web deign, management has the usual stupid mass mentality of macs being better for multimedia)

              Ah you poor soul, I remember when OSX & a Mac was the choice because of the software was superior as to what was found on Windows, but now yeah invalid point. I know people who think AMD is king of the CPU's, I said to someone not long back that it's 2013, not 2005.. Last time I remember AMD being superior for a CPU.

    To be fair windows Vista was a terrible OS, Windows XP and 7 are great for games though :)

      XP is a touch outdated for gaming, you cannot play any games that need DX10 or 11. Also its only 32bit so you cant have a lot of RAM.

        64 Bit XP does, exist, would you use it? Well that's your call...

          Yeah I tried 64 bit XP once but I couldn't find drivers for a single piece of my hardware for it :(

    The title and that first image made me laugh a lot more than it should have. Sure, there is nothing wrong with the article but using that image... My god that's some clever comedy right there.

    You can only optimize macs with Optimus Prime

    I disagree Macs are useless for gaming. I use a lowest specked 21.5" 2011 era iMac with Windows 7 and Mac OS X. Got the iMac 15% off on sale, so just shy of a grand Australian. Came with a standard quad core i5, Radeon 6750M, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB HDD. If you take the cost of some ok speakers, a nice mouse and keyboard (the Apple keyboard is great IMO, mouse not so much, but still) and a 1080i 21.5" screen the computer it self only costed $750 - $800.

    I'm not fooling my self here, I know that the machine is not going to push games to the limit, but it runs BF3 at native resolution at a solid 45FPS on high settings.

    I think it's to easy to brand all Apple devices as over priced and underpowered, but that's when they are compared to devices that sacrifice everything else for the sake of specs and price. Look at the Chromebook Pixel and the Razer Blade, both are comparable to MacBooks in power and design and they all share roughly the same price.

    Obviously all three are premium devices, but don't be so hasty to label a Mac as overpriced. Especially considering all your software updates are (now) free for the life of the device. And believe me, they last. I've still got a 2008 MacBook Unibody as my main work machine, works like a charm.

      I get this argument when it comes to laptops that are going to see a lot of use. Apple's laptop build quality is outstanding. But an iMac? You're sacrificing literally everything else about the machine for style alone.

    got a 15" macbook retina, 30 second setup vs 10 minutes at lans is nice :P sure it wont play everything maxed out, but average settings are fine unless you stupidly try to run it at the lcds native res... but things do look very shiny when you do :P

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